Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Thoughts while counting snaps from Sunday’s 37-35 loss at Miami …
OFFENSIVE SNAPS: 61
QUARTERBACKS: Teddy Bridgewater 61, Christian Ponder DNP.
Thoughts: Bridgewater was fantastic. He threw only seven incompletions, and one of them was the interception that bounced off of Matt Asiata’s hands. Unfortunately, when people look at raw stats at the end of a season, they forget which interceptions were the QBs fault or were Hail Mary throws at the end of halves. Bridgewater also had only one incompletion on third downs, going 6 for 7 for 97 yards, three first downs and a touchdown to Greg Jennings. He had another 24-yard completion to Jennings on third down that proved he can drop a deeper ball into a tight spot outside the numbers. A fourth losing season in five years shouldn’t feel as hopeless for Vikings fans because of the young QB who should continue to improve.
OFFENSIVE LINE: LT Matt Kalil 61, LG Vladimir Ducasse 61, C John Sullivan 61, RG Joe Berger 61, RT Mike Harris 61, Austin Wentworth 3, G David Yankey DNP, T Carter Bykowski INA, G Charlie Johnson INA.
Thoughts: For all the grief Kalil gets, and much of it deserved this season, he played well on Sunday. Well enough to give Bridgewater a chance to post a 114.1 passer rating and complete 73.1 percent of his passes. Harris struggled, but that was to be expected. He was a journeyman backup facing Cameron Wake. Ducasse also got overpowered, but, again, he’s not a starting caliber player. With Johnson inactive with the ankle injury, Yankey, the rookie fifth-round pick, was active for the first time in his NFL career. But he didn’t play. Wentworth is proving to be a nice addition as an extra tackle in goal-line situations. The Vikings scored with him in there.
RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS: WR Charles Johnson 55, TE Rhett Ellison 47, WR Greg Jennings 47, WR Jarius Wright 34, TE Chase Ford 33, WR Cordarrelle Patterson 9, WR Adam Thielen 6, TE Kyle Rudolph INA.
Thoughts: If the team handed out an award for underrated player of the year, two tight ends — Ellison and Ford — would be in the mix along with Wright and, from this perspective, defensive tackle Tom Johnson. Ellison didn’t exactly show off blazing speed on his 40-yard catch late in the game, but the key play showed what can happen when teams go to sleep on this guy. He’s one of the ultimate worker bees that all NFL teams need to be successful. Rudolph practiced Friday, but the team was wise not to risk further injury to a prized playmaker. Although at some point, Rudolph will need to shed the injury bug for the team to continue trusting him as a No. 1 tight end. For the time being, however, the position is in good hands with two of the more underrated players on the roster.
RUNNING BACKS: RB Matt Asiata 45, RB Joe Banyard 16, FB Jerome Felton 10, RB Ben Tate DNP, FB Zach Line INA.
Thoughts: Asiata gets grief sometimes for having a limited skill set. He should be admired for knowing exactly the type of player he is and running as hard straight ahead as any back in the league. It’s not his fault Adrian Peterson was removed from the offense in Week 2. Asiata was never meant to be a feature back. But the guy has strong value because he doesn’t lose yardage, he catches the ball and doesn’t mess around with unnecessary moves. Asiata set the tone early in this game. On the Vikings’ first possession, Asiata touched the ball eight times on a 10-play touchdown drive, including the 1-yard touchdown to cap the drive. He had a 10-yard run. He caught a pass. And he even had a spin move that got him three yards to the 1-yard line. Don’t worry about what Asiata isn’t. Appreciate what he is. Banyard, meanwhile, had the best run of the game. And it could have been the pivotal play in the game had the Vikings won. Backed up near their own goal line with Miami calling time outs to set up good field position near the end of the half, Banyard exploded into the line on third-and-five. He plowed into Berger, moving the big guard forward a few yards before breaking free for a 16-yard gain. From that point, the Vikings were the ones who started calling timeouts to set up what became an 18-yard field goal and a 10-point lead at the half. Tate didn’t play and it’s safe to say the Vikings are becoming less interested in him long-term. He’s not running with authority and isn’t in the kind of shape they’re looking for.
DEFENSIVE SNAPS: 85.
LINEBACKERS: Gerald Hodges 85, Jasper Brinkley 52, Chad Greenway 43, Audie Cole 13, Brandon Watts 6, Anthony Barr INA.
Thoughts: The defense collapsed in the second half, giving up four touchdown drives in four possessions. Three of them were 80-yard drives. No question this defense would be better with Barr in the game, but Hodges is getting valuable playing time that will help him become a starter in either 2016 or as early as next season, depending on whether Greenway can hold him off another season. Greenway injured his knee and left the game early. Cole stepped in as his primary backup, while Watts got his first NFL snaps on defense. Brinkley played an uncharacteristically high 61 percent of the snaps, especially considering the Dolphins threw the ball 47 times.
DEFENSIVE LINE: DE Everson Griffen 77, DE Brian Robison 72, DT Sharrif Floyd 58, NT Linval Joseph 53, DT Tom Johnson 30, NT Shamar Stephen 28, DE Corey Wootton 21.
Thoughts: It was good to see Floyd back to handling his normal workload and putting together a very active game after a week off to finally rest that bothersome knee. He can be a rare inside pass rushing force if he can stay healthy. He also needs to keep his cool and not punch opponents in the facemask when he gets ticked off. He could have been tossed from the game on that one. Johnson continues to be a favorite player from this viewpoint. His reps are limited, but he gets the most out of them. He added another sack to extend his career-high total to 6 1/2. He also had two QB hurries.
SECONDARY: CB Xavier Rhodes 85, FS Harris Smith 85, CB Captain Munnerlyn 85, SS Robert Blanton 64, CB Josh Robinson 56, S Andrew Sendejo 22, CB Shaun Prater INA.
Thoughts: Rhodes is still having an extraordinary season and his future is as great as his determination and health will permit. Sunday was a good reminder to stay sharp with the techniques because sometimes — a lot of times — the officials call a tight game. The second half on Sunday was called especially tight. Heck, there was one play in which the officials called pass interference on both the offensive and defensive players. Rhodes was flagged twice, once for holding and once for pass interference inside the 5-yard line. His swagger is growing, which is good to see. As long as it doesn’t come with sloppiness. Smith had a great interception on a pass rush that would have been discussed at length had the Vikings not lost. The pick gave him five on the season. He’s the first Viking with at least five picks in a season since Darren Sharper had nine in 2005. Interesting that Blanton was healthy enough to play 64 snaps, but didn’t get his starting job back after missing last week’s game because of leg injuries. Sendejo started. Not a big deal since neither one really stands out above the other. Sendejo left to be evaluated for a concussion. He was cleared and returned briefly before Blanton came back in.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Most snaps: DE Justin Trattou 23.
MOST SNAPS: 92 Hodges (85 defense, seven special teams), Rhodes (85 defense, seven special teams).
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings couldn’t close out the Dolphins yesterday, blowing another lead.
— OLB Chad Greenway played yesterday despite the death of his father Friday.
— Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater shined in front of his hometown fans.
— Costly penalties and poor defensive play had Zimmer steaming after the game.
— The special-teams unit experienced a high and a big low in the final minutes.
— The second-half failures of the Vikings defense fall on Zimmer.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Proven to be one of mentally toughest players, much respect to my bud Chad Greenway playing in wake of father’s passing on Friday. #Vikings
— Ben Leber (@nacholeber) December 21, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is proving he is a franchise quarterback.
— The Dolphins are sticking with coach Joe Philbin after yesterday’s win.
— Dolphins players say they are excited about Philbin coming back in 2015.
— The embattled Miami defensive line rose up in yesterday’s victory.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings report to Winter Park this morning for meetings and film review. The locker room will be open to media at 12:30 p.m. Zimmer will hold his usual Monday press conference at 2 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Players were frustrated yesterday after letting another win slip away. It was their second straight loss in which they blew a 14-0 lead and squandered late opportunities to redeem themselves. As I wrote in my game story, if the Vikings had been able to finish out a few more games — like, ahem, that loss in Buffalo — they could be in playoff contention right now. But in the spirit of Charlie Conway saying “quarter inch the other way and you would have missed the net completely,” if they hadn’t pulled out a couple of overtime wins, the Vikings could be 4-11 right now. So we’ll call it even.
Mike Zimmer was clearly irked when speaking with reporters immediately after today’s 37-35 loss to the Dolphins, and understandably so. His Vikings blew another double-digit lead, allowed nearly 500 yards of total offense and were flagged a bunch of times in a frustrating loss.
“I think it was a poor performance by us,” the first-year head coach said. “We did things that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
After a solid first half, Zimmer’s defense got ripped apart by the Dolphins, who scored touchdowns on all four of their second-half drives. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 396 passing yards, the most the Vikings have allowed this season, and four touchdowns. Led by running back Lamar Miller, the Dolphins became the latest team to eclipse 100 rushing yards against the Vikings.
“We couldn’t cover anybody,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t rush and we didn’t cover. So that’s a pretty hard combination.”
The Vikings also hurt themselves with some untimely penalties, including a couple after the whistle. Both defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and outside linebacker Gerald Hodges were flagged for personal fouls after plays had ended.
“Ridiculous. Ridiculous,” Zimmer said. “That’s how you get beat, doing stuff like that.”
All those miscues helped the Dolphins erase an early 14-0 deficit and then regain the lead after the Vikings got back ahead, 35-28, with only a few minutes left in the game. No wonder Zimmer was salty after the game, and he said the players got it much worse than we did.
“We made too many mistakes. We had penalties in crucial situations of the game,” Zimmer said. “All the things I’ve been trying to preach for 11 months, we didn’t do today — critical errors in the field, red zone, third downs. It just wasn’t a good day.”
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was the biggest bright spot in the 37-35 loss to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
In a game where the Vikings loss on a punt blocked for a safety, the Miami native had his fourth straight game completing more than 70 percent of his passes. Bridgewater went 19 of 26 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception was due to a pass deflected off running back Matt Asiata’s hands.
“I was happy to be able to play in front of my family and everyone who was able to get down here to some nice 70 degree weather,” Bridgewater said. “That was pretty cool, but we knew that it was going to be a challenge coming down here to play the Dolphins. …We played hard and the guys executed, but we just didn’t do enough to win the game.”
Bridgewater led the Vikings down the field to tie the game at 28 with 4:46 left in the game on a five-play, 60 yard drive in less than two minutes. He connected with wide receiver Jarius Wright in what was one of many impressive throws by the rookie quarterback.
Bridgewater had a quarterback rating of 114.1, marking the third time in the last four games Bridgewater’s had a rating over 100.
“Four or five years ago, I was a senior at Miami Northwestern watching Dolphins games and attending Dolphins games,” Bridgewater said. “To be able to play against those guys today was a great feeling, being able to play against your home town team. At the end of the day, we didn’t do what we came down here to do so it won’t be such a great feeling.”
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway decided to suit up in the 37-35 loss to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, two days after his father passed away, but he couldn’t finish the game.
Greenway missed most of the second half to a knee injury. He said he heard a pop in his knee as it was bent backwards. Greenway finished with three tackles and ½ a sack.
“That’s not what I had in mind flying to Miami and playing this football game,” Greenway said. “It just makes matters worse.”
Greenway was excused from Friday’s practice to be with his father, Alan, in South Dakota before he died that night. Alan had been batting leukemia for more than two years.
“It’s a tough week obviously for my family,” Greenway said. “It just came down on trying to make a decision on what’s the right thing to do. I talked with my family and everybody thought they’d be good handling the stuff back home if I came and played the game then met up with them when I got home and took care of business. It was a tough decision but the right decision.”
Greenway said it was a temporary distraction, but he’s looking forward to returning home to be with his family. He was very appreciative of the Vikings organization for allowing him to be with his family during the difficult situation.
“It’s really a blessing to be around the team and the guys,” Greenway said. “Really the whole organization is real supportive of my family, myself and they always have been from Day 1 when my dad got ill. It’s been such a blessing to be with this organization. They’ve been there for me every step of the way and continue to be there now. It’s all about us and the time we needed.”
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